By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
If a return to normal is one of the signs that the pandemic is receding, take heart: Perfectly normal topics such as group business challenges, innovation, and incentive plans were a few of the discussion points during HSMAI’s virtual Chief Sales Officer Executive Roundtable on Feb. 9. Participating companies included Accor, Hilton, IHG, Marriott International, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, RLHC, and The Leading Hotels of the World Ltd. Here are key takeaways from the hotel sales executives’ discussion.
VACCINATION, QUEEN’S GAMBITS, AND OTHER INNOVATION
There have been plenty of creative uses for hotel rooms and meeting spaces over the past year, but Roundtable participants shared some of the most innovate uses yet. Several participants mentioned using hotel rooms as vaccination sites. “AHLA is actually advocating for hotels and rooms to be used for vaccination sites,” one participant said. “Not just the general space, but if you want to have a private vaccination room, they would offer up the guest rooms for that.”
One participant said that due to the popularity of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, she saw a hotel convert a room into a “Queen’s Gambit” room, where people can have a unique experience related to the show. Another participant said that one of her hotels offered a unique way to host galas in a socially distant way. “We had a new hotel that just opened, and they built double-decker hospitality suites on one end of the building,” the participant said. “Galas had to happen to raise money, even if people could not go in person, so we sold these hospitality suites to couples and families, so they could have their own mini gala party safely. That way they could still celebrate and be a part of the event virtually.”
THE ONCE AND FUTURE RETURN OF GROUP BUSINESS
While group business is still slow, overall, participants shared good news that corporate business is starting to creep back. However, when it comes to hosting events, there are still logistical challenges.
“There’s problems in certain markets, like in Nashville, where you have to get approval from the county for anything over 500 people,” one participant said. “And if there’s going to be liquor, it’s only 75 people. So, the client doesn’t know what the rules are either. The association market particularly has been a mess.”
Several other participants noted that another level of confusion is added when it comes to coordinating with convention centers or other venues in large cities that are also dealing with staff shortages and repurposed uses. “We’re running into a lot of uncertainty, and everyone waiting,” one participant said.
One participant said that she has talked to planners who are hesitant about booking large meetings and events that may not fill up. “I think that even with the vaccines, our planners are going to be loathe to go back to put a bunch of people into a space,” the participant said. “You run into that problem where they want to keep their larger space because of social distancing, even with low attrition. So, it’s trying to be creative with what we can offer them from a space standpoint, so that they have that competence and comfort level to share with us.”
Another participant added: “We’ve got groups that were booked two years ago that are supposed to be coming in at X. We know they won’t come in where they’re supposed to be. We’re trying to put in new business, but we’re probably turning some away and we shouldn’t be. I worry that 800-room group will wind up being 300 rooms, but they still want all of our meeting space because they want to socially distance. And now I can’t sell the other 500 rooms, so we’re stuck.”
INCENTIVIZING INCENTIVE PLANS AND GOALS
Participants also shared the different ways their hotels are tackling incentive plans this year — trying to reward employees for their hard work while dealing with the realities of a tight budget. Several participants said they are tightening the requirements for incentives but still proceeding with hosting incentive trips. “Our intention is to be somewhat back to normal by the end of the year,” one participant said. “We’re still weighing team versus individual goals this year, but we are planning on proceeding with an incentive trip in some form.”
Another participant added: “It’ll be a much smaller experience, but half of something should still be incentive enough.”
One participant said that they have been discussing sending employees on an incentive trip to one of the company’s many hotels that have opened during the pandemic. “We want to have the incentive trip at a particular location where everybody’s really excited because most folks haven’t seen it,” the participant said. “A lot of sales folks sadly haven’t even seen their own product.”
When it comes to monetary incentives, participants mentioned setting more team goals and helping team members to reach their goals faster. “We’re thinking that we’re going to open the gate a little bit earlier,” one participant said. “So, if the gate might’ve opened at 90 percent of goal before, we might open it at 60 percent to start with, to give people a little teaser.”
Another participant said: “It’s going to be very hard to split a goal up at a property level, when association teams are going to do better than corporate teams. We’re setting quarterly goals this year, and we think teams will be able to achieve goals over individuals.”